The high deserts of southeastern Arizona are a little short on chipmunks. Even the tough little Cliff Chipmunk seldom strays far from the forests of the Chiricahua Mountains (except for a few pioneers that somehow made it to the Huachuca Mountains, but that’s a topic for another post). So what’s a tiny squirrel with racing stripes doing in our desert garden? It’s the chipmunk’s doppelganger, Harris’s Antelope Squirrel. They’re a bit larger and rounder than true chipmunks and lack facial stripes, but their behavior is strikingly similar.
This is a very special neighbor, unique to the Sonoran Desert region. Their genus name, Ammospermophilus, means “sand seed lover,” but Harris’s Antelope Squirrels are as comfortable in rocky deserts as sandy ones. Sure, they stuff their cheek pouches with high-priced seed intended for the birds, but you can get away with some petty theft when you’re that cute. Anyway, they don’t take nearly as much as the relatively enormous Rock Squirrels, and they tuck their plunder safely away in their burrows instead of burying it in our flower beds. (When it finally does rain, sprout volcanoes erupting in our hummingbird garden mark “Rocky’s” forgotten seed caches.)
The three other antelope squirrels are just as adorable: Nelson’s (an endangered resident of California’s San Joaquin Valley), Texas (western Texas, eastern New Mexico, and north-central Mexico), and White-tailed (western New Mexico west to southeastern California and southern Baja California north to southeastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho). Keep an eye peeled for them on your next desert camping trip.